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Column: Dems Right to Reject Kwon for Court

Christie is entitled to appointments, and the Dems are obligated to keep the court in balance.

Last week’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in Trenton provided yet another New Jersey example of civics in action. It wasn't pretty, but it was necessary.

By a 7-6 vote, the committee rejected one of Gov. Chris Christie’s two nominees for the state Supreme Court. After a marathon session, Phillip Kwon, who worked for U.S. Attorney Christie, was still just the number two man in the state Attorney General’s office.

And Christie’s other nominee, Chatham Mayor Bruce Harris, had to leave without even a hearing, which may have been a blessing compared to what Kwon went through. Harris now has weeks, at least, to wait until he gets his own turn.

While there were questions about a family business, it was clear the hearing and the rejection were all about politics.

In theory, politics should play no role in the approval of court nominees, nor should it play any role in the decisions the justices make.

In real life, however, it is a different story.

While the judiciary is supposed to be that neutral third branch of government in which politics does not play a role, it does not always work out that way. And to keep a balance, governors in New Jersey have always kept the political party membership of the court at 4-3, depending on the party of the governor who gets to make the tie-breaking appointment.

But this governor, who has been up front in announcing his intention to remake the court, strayed from that formula.

Shortly after taking office, Christie chose not to reappoint Justice John Wallace—the first time in modern history that a governor has rejected putting a sitting justice back on the court.

Instead, he appointed Anne Patterson from his home county of Morris. After a lengthy protest, the Senate did put the governor’s choice on the bench.

Given the chance to appoint two additional justices, Christie chose Harris, another Morris Republican, and Kwon. While Kwon was billed as an independent, he was a longtime registered Republican with close ties to Christie. It’s reasonable to consider him a Republican.

If both Kwon and Harris were to join the court, it would be far out of balance, essentially 5-2 Republican, including Kwon and sitting justice Jaynee LaVecchia, who is technically an independent but was appointed to three high government positions by two Republican governors—she was a counsel to Tom Kean and in Christie Whitman’s cabinet.

Tradition dictates Christie’s court should lean Republican 4-3, not 5-2.

That’s where the second historical moment happened, with a 7-6 mostly party line vote rejecting a governor’s Supreme Court nominee.

“The governor may be entitled to his own nominees for cabinet posts, but we will not allow him to pack the Supreme Court,” said Senate President Stephen Sweeney, D-Gloucester. “The governor must work with us to put together a balanced tandem of candidates for the Court.”

Sen. Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen and a member of the judiciary committee, put it more bluntly, saying Christie “has a record of attacking the courts and denigrating judges when he disagrees with their decisions, and he’s made no secret of his desire to reshape the Supreme Court to his own liking … The state would be ill served for generations to come if he is allowed to pack the court with ideological judges with an agenda that would turn back the clock on mainstream values.”

Christie was bitterly upset last year when the high court ordered him to give more money to schools in accordance with its Abbott v. Burke funding case.

Another controversial matter—the status of the state's affordable housing rules —is currently one of the oldest cases still awaiting argument before the court. Christie just lost in appellate court over his attempt to get rid of the state Council on Affordable Housing and he is appealing that decision.

There’s another case destined for the court in which Christie has a keen interest: Gay marriage. The governor vetoed the bill by Weinberg and Sweeney to permit it in the state and a number of gay couples have a case moving through the courts that could negate that veto as it seeks a ruling that the current civil union law is inadequate and should be replaced by marriage.

Sen. Gerald Cardinale, R-Bergen, said the Democrats have controlled the state’s highest court in 50 of the last 64 years and it’s time for that to change.

“The state Supreme Court under recent Democrat control has acted outside of its public duties by creating or increasing politically driven spending mandates that have burdened our taxpayers,” he declared.

The judicial branch of government is not supposed to care about costs and taxes, but about what's right and wrong. No one of either party should allow it to be swayed from its duties.

While it wasn’t pretty, the Democrats were right to work to keep the balance close. The vote against Kwon makes what they will do about Harris, if they even schedule it for a vote, an interesting question.

Colleen O'Dea is a writer, editor, researcher, data analyst, web page designer and mapper with almost three decades in the news business. 

Jack Wagon April 01, 2012 at 10:59 AM
This is a really good synopsis that gives good reasoning for Dems. decision to veto Kwan. Unfortunately, the broad strokes picture shows that Christie needs to play ball at some point with someone in order for anything of significance to get accomplished in NJ. It's sad that the broken two party political system alway gets bogged down in the muck of politics, thus denying the good people of NJ timely appointees to fill the swamped courts. (i.e. See Essex County) It needs to be overhauled.
Winston April 01, 2012 at 12:25 PM
Hmmm...I wonder if Kwons race had anything to do with the Democrats lynching of this qualified candidate?
Joe R April 01, 2012 at 01:18 PM
Excellent op ed. The problem is that we have an arrogant bully governor who won't compromise. It's always his way or the highway and when he doesn't get his way, he spews insults, character assassinations and wild accusations.
Jack Wagon April 01, 2012 at 02:11 PM
You're only seeing one side of the problem and this proves my point that the two party system is broken and needs a complete overhaul. Yeah, Christie is a bully, but unions and democrats are bullies too. People need to realize that both parties are purely out for their own interests with very few exceptions. Bullying aside, Christie is doing a lot of good for NJ as a Republican Gov. in a heavily liberal progressive Democrat leaning state. Taking on the powerful teacher's union being just one of the things he is doing right.
Joe R April 01, 2012 at 03:25 PM
Please don't try to equate what Christie is doing to what the "evil" unions are doing. Christie is the one who started the name calling and the never ending demonizing of the union and teachers. Of course he hasn't gone after the police or fire fighter unions. He has said very ugly things about teachers; accusing them of using students as drug mules and saying that teachers are greedy right in front of a class of kids. How the hell can you put bullying aside when that is his prime modus operandi, his trademark. Christie Todd Whitman was not an obnoxious name calling bully. CC is unlike any other GOP NJ governor, he's totally the opposite of Tom Kean, the elder. The NJEA has the right to advocate for its position in a civilized and decent way, unlike CC. I'm not sure that the two party system is broken; there is definitely too much corporate money controlling the political process. Politics has always been a dirty fractious enterprse even in the time of Jefferson and Adams. The corporate money far outstrips union money by huge magnitudes so please don't start that false equivalency. Walmart, GE, Exxon Mobile, Bank of America, the US Chamber of Commerce, the Koch brothers, etc. have massive amounts of money with which to flood the political process. Whatever pathetic little good CC "may" be doing for NJ is far outweighed by all his negatives and his purposeful destruction of public education in NJ.
Winston April 01, 2012 at 03:40 PM
Joe R...your posts are getting more and more disturbing. Please try and read or watch something other than the NYT or MSNBC. If you have an open and.....healthy mind.....you will find that most of your rants are baseless and fueled by lies.
Gwynnerae April 01, 2012 at 06:18 PM
Seriously? The Democrats were only right if you want partisan politics to rule who sits on the bench. The only thing that should matter is the quality of the nominee. If they can find nothing wrong with the quality of his legal training and accomplishments they should have approved him. Christie is right that the court has become too activist, forgetting that it's role is not to legislate from the bench but to uphold the constitution. Period.
Jack Wagon April 01, 2012 at 08:57 PM
Joe - Try the Grape Kool Aid - You'll love the taste. So who is funding the bloated Obama re-election campaign? Corporations, George Soros, the Unions & Bill Maher along with the rest of Hollywood? Obama has more campaign money than the republicans do. In my opinion, all unions are a waste of time and serve absolutely no purpose in today's workplace other than to line the pockets of their political cronies to keep them in office. So I guess you think Jon Corzine was a better Governor? List his accomplishments for NJ other than pandering to the unions, especially the teachers union, that put him in office. BTW - He'll be lucky if he stays out of jail now. Here are just some of the things Christie has accomplished even with a repressive Democratic Legislature: 1. Taking on the powerful NJEA / Teachers Union- It's about time someone did! 1a. Enacted the Superintendent pay cap. 2. Added 60,000 private sector jobs 3. Shrunk the size and costs of NJ Government. 4. Balanced the last two fiscal budgets. (a law that Jon Corzine failed in 2006). 5. Killed the ARC Tunnel Project that would have been mired in union cost overruns that NJ would have had to foot the bill for. 6. Hires Chris Cerf & Fired Bret Shundler for incompetence & costing NJ $400 million in Race To The Top education funding. 7. Capped prop. taxes @ 2% annually. 8. Vetoed gay marriage bill - instead asked for a referendum in November general elections. 9. Vetoed the Jersey Shore Film Tax Credit.
Joe R April 01, 2012 at 10:46 PM
Jack is obviously a knee jerk union hater, what else is new? No need for unions? Ha, that's the Walmart argument against unions. Unions are needed more than ever, there is massive corporate money propagandizing against unions. There has been agressive union busting going on for over 30 years. In Walmart (the largest private employer in the US), if any one dares to mention a union they are bullied and fired. Workers are forced to watch anti union films and read anti union propaganda. The unionization rate in the US is down to 11.8% while in Canada, Germany and Japan it's more than twice ours. Sweden's unionization rate is about 75% while Finland's is well above 80%. When Walmart opened up stores in South Africa it had to allow unionization of its workforce or it would not be allowed to set up stores there. Christie is trying to stack the court with his political cronies and ideological allies. No other NJ governor in recent memory has tried to do that. CC should NOT be allowed to get away with this scam. He's a horrible governor, a fraud and a liar. In a 2009 open letter to teachers, he stated that nothing about pensions would change and he would not touch the pensions. He knew damn well that he was lying when he made that statement.
Winston April 01, 2012 at 11:44 PM
JoeR...when you wrote "He's a horrible governor, a fraud and a liar." you must have been thinking of either McGreevy, Corzine or both! They both have proven to be what many consider the rotten heart and soul of the left wing of the Democratic party!
Winston April 01, 2012 at 11:46 PM
JoeR are ou against the fraud and greed at the highest levels of the union controlled whitehouse....look who is in trouble now! Another Democrat! http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_OBAMA_FUNDRAISER_FRAUD?SITE=AP&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&CTIME=2012-04-01-18-05-18
Jerry Avins April 02, 2012 at 02:49 AM
I supect that only a closet bigot would think if that. Who are you, anyway?
Jack Wagon April 02, 2012 at 11:34 AM
Joe - Yup- I hate Unions. Got me there. It wasn't knee jerk - my opinion formed over 20 years of dealing with union slugs. I rarely shop at Walmart or Sam's because the oversea's child slave labor thing a few years ago. Could care less about them being a non-union shop, though. Good for them, being non-union is keeping their targeted consumers prices lower and helping their bottom line. It's called Capitalism. Look it up, it's not in the liberal progressive agenda. You're pointing the ugly end of the stick at Christie, and that's okay with me. Don't vote for him. His record of accomplishments speaks for itself. The last two dems. in office either left the office in disgrace or just sat in the Gov. chair and did ABSOLUTELY nothing to help N.J. Hence why we now have a republican Gov. who is actually tackling those prickly hard issues exactly like the one's you are complaining about and the one's the dems. ignored while pandering to their precious unions. With NJ in economic turmoil, enough people stopped burying their heads in the sand and voted for a real change. I don't always agree with Christie's decisions. For instance, lowering the flag to half staff for entertainers was a disgrace. That honor is reserved for heads of state and NJ soldiers that have fallen in combat. Overall, he's still far better than the alternative.
Joe R April 02, 2012 at 01:03 PM
Union slugs? Yeah, how about all those union slugs on 9/11 who gave up their lives to save thousands of lives. 343 union slug NYC fire fighters gave up their lives to save the lives of people they did not even know. Same for the union slug NYPD, the union slug port authority cops, union slug EMCs and union slug first aid workers. By the way, capitalism is not a governmental system, capitalism has been grafted onto commie China and has existed in some very oppressive facist dictatorships. One of the first things that happens in dictatorships is the banning of unions. Jack is anti the freedom to form unions because he thinks that all or most union people are slugs. Talk about prejudice and bias, nice way of smearing a whole group of people.
Joe R April 02, 2012 at 01:08 PM
Whoops, meant to say fascist.
Jack Wagon April 02, 2012 at 05:28 PM
I'm not sure how you did it, but you linked me to being a commie in China and fascist dictator all because I don't like unions. WOW - you're really mixed up. So, in your opinion, if the first responders weren't unionized, they wouldn't have been there on 9/11? Is that what you're trying to say? I find that hard to believe. I was a non-union first responder on 9/11. We got called into my VOLUNTEER fire house and responded on 9/11and in the days that followed without getting paid or without the benefits of being in a union. We responded because of our sense of duty as Americans and of wanting to help fellow Americans during the worst attack on this country since Pearl Harbor. Being in a Union or not had nothing to do with it, and no one asked me on 9/11 or any other day after if I had my union card. Ridiculous statement Joe. Also, I'm not anti-freedom of anything. I'm a live and let live person that happens to think unions serve no meaningful purpose, it's my opinion and you trying to say that I'm prejudice isn't going to change my opinion. But you did get me again - I am prejudice and bias against unions. I'm not making it a secret, they're not for me. But if someone wants to join a union and pay union dues out of their paycheck that only exist to line the pockets of politicians that support every union initiative, no one is stopping them. It's their money.
Jack Wagon April 02, 2012 at 05:37 PM
BTW - Christie's da man!
Jack Wagon April 02, 2012 at 05:45 PM
Joe's been watching to much Richar...I mean Rachel Maddow.
Jack Wagon April 02, 2012 at 05:48 PM
...And there should be massive union busting going on. I ask you Joe, what good do Unions serve? Give me their purpose?
Winston April 02, 2012 at 05:53 PM
Jack...you can see that Comrade JoeR gets confuse with his history and anti American talking points.
Jack Wagon April 02, 2012 at 07:46 PM
Joe's been watching way too much MSDNC. I'll bet he'll be blaming me for global warming and a new strain of bird flu pandemic and try to tie it all in his next post because I hate unions. Joe's big conspiracy theory. I never even said I hated cops, firefighters, or EMT's, as Joe tries to portray in his irrational rant, I just hate their slug unions, along with every other slug union. HUGE difference. He tries to twist my disdain for all unions into it being my fault for 9/11 cop & firefighter deaths. Really Wacky, but comical in a sad sort of way because there are a lot of Joe's out there. Real deep thinkers. Scary.
Jack Wagon April 02, 2012 at 11:33 PM
Comrade JoeR, lol.


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